Chile is a narrow strip of land, stretching for thousands of kilometers, sandwiched between the Andes Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean. From desert landscapes to glacial ice fields and a few modern metropolises thrown in for good measure, it’s a country that can genuinely claim to have something for everyone. We have prepared a two-week itinerary that takes travelers across the entire country and to some of its most striking landscapes.
Days 1-2: Vibrant Santiago
Santiago is Chile’s largest city and one of the country’s many success stories. It’s also a great introduction to Chile. The city has an emerging café culture, thriving art scene, infectious nightlife, and South America’s largest and most efficient metro system.
Begin your tour of the city at Plaza de Armas, where you will find friendly street vendors offering anything from souvenir handicrafts and clothing, to fresh smoothies and asado – South American barbeque.
There are numerous churches and cathedrals dotted around the Plaza. A visit to Catedral de Santiago and the nearby Iglesia de Santo Domingo are both worth a visit. Also check out Casa Colorada, one of the last colonial buildings in the city, and home to the intriguing Museum of Santiago.
Heading out of El Centro, Bellavista is where one can find numerous bars and restaurants, as well as the Metropolitan Zoo. This colorful district lies at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal – the second highest point in the city – and tourists flock here day and night via the cable car for jaw-dropping vistas of Santiago amongst the looming Andes Mountains.
To see a serene side of Santiago, the eastern upper class suburbs of Lo Barenchea, Las Condes and Providencia offer plenty of green space, tree-lined streets, and some of the city’s finest malls, bars and restaurants. These districts also offer convenient access to the mountains, a big draw during ski season (June-October).
Day 3: Colchagua Valley and Santa Cruz
As Chile’s wine gains increasing international acclaim, more and more tourists are discovering its routes. Before the seriously large tourist hordes arrive, travel less than two hours south of Santiago by road to Santa Cruz. This is an ideal base to spend a day discovering Chile’s most-relaxed wine region.
A number of tour operators in Santa Cruz can arrange afternoons exploring the vineyards and tasting the delicious wines. Chile is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wine and most of the wine grown in Chile is red.
Other ways to spend your time in the region include exploring Chile’s largest private museum, the Museo de Colchagua, which houses an astounding array of ceramics, original cowboy collections, old train carriages and wine making equipment. Santa Cruz also offers some of the region’s best horseback riding, trekking and fly fishing through the Colchagua Valley.
After a long day exploring the valley, wind down at the Hotel Santa Cruz and enjoy its excellent dining, a casino, and convenient access to the city’s main square and transport options.
Day 4: Siete Tazas National Park
A little further south, Siete Tazas – literally Seven Cups – is a natural wonder that is often overlooked by foreign tourists, but held in high regard amongst many Chileans. The park’s main attraction is its seven natural pools, which spill into each other to form a spectacular set of waterfalls that visitors can observe from various lookout points.
If the views aren’t spectacular enough, grab a paddle and Kayak along the Rio Claro. Skilled kayakers can choose to tackle some of the smaller waterfalls; however the biggest two are out of bounds.
A moderate sunset hike around the parks nature trails will build up an appetite, before a relaxing overnight bus to the coast.
Days 5-6: Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
At its widest point Chile is only 240km (150mi), which means you’re never too far from South America’s longest coastline. The colourful beach towns of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are only 8km apart, but offer contrasting views of the Chilean seaside.
Base yourself in Valparaíso, a UNESCO world heritage site and once the most important port in South America. Here you can wander the city’s rugged hillside streets, and marvel at some of the finest street graffiti in the world.
Take one of the world famous funiculars to Ascensor Artilleria for a romantic view of the city, before strolling through the beautiful, if crumbling historic quarter.
Club de Cueca will then ensure a good night’s sleep after a formal evening learning Cueca – Chile’s traditional dance.
From here Viña del Mar is within easy access, and just a 15 minute bus ride will bring you to the manicured gardens and fine dining of the city known as Viña.
Enjoy a much needed lazy day at Reñaca Beach, or cycle all, or part, of the 12km scenic seaside road of Constanera.
A stroll down Avenida Peru will take you to Chile’s first and biggest casino, as well as to the Flower Clock where you can join the queue for a customary and cheesy photo.
Days 7-8: San Pedro de Atacama
With an early morning flight from Santiago, you can arrive in San Pedro de Atacama by late morning or early afternoon, via the nearby city of Calama. Considered the archeological capital of Chile, from here you can explore the 3000 year old town of Tulor before heading to the nearby salt flats of Salar de Atacama, part of the world’s driest desert.
Spend the next day relaxing day at the El Tatio Geysers, the world’s third largest geyser field. Here you can observe the 100 plus geysers before cleansing your troubles away at some of the regions famous mud baths and natural pools.
The Atacama is also home to some of the clearest skies in the world, and stargazing tours can be arranged to see what is potentially the Southern Hemisphere’s most amazing night sky.
Days 9-13: Torres del Paine National Park
[Also see our travel article “Five Adventures in South America“]
A cross-country flight from Calama to Punta Arenas travels across various climates and lands you deep into the heart of Chilean Patagonia. A connecting bus will take you to the port town of Puerto Natales, where you can explore the city’s waterfront, before preparing for one of the world’s most spectacular hikes.
Torres del Paine is a hikers dream come true! It’s open to all levels and has a diverse terrain ranging from green fields and woodland to lakeside paths and river passes. The trek takes visitors through some of the continent’s most stunning surroundings, a landscape dominated by the jagged Andes towers of which the park is named after.
The ‘W’ trek is the most popular, and takes between 3-5 days. The nights are spent at some of the conveniently located campgrounds or refugios – where one can opt for a bed instead of a tent, as well as a home cooked meal and electricity.